5 Life Lessons From Mike Tyson


You may know Mike Tyson as the ear-eating, raping, drug-addled former heavyweight champion of the world. However, did you know he was also an oracle of profound wisdom? Observe:

1. “You guys have written so much bad stuff about me I can’t remember the last time I fucked a decent woman. I have to go with strippers and ‘ho’s’ and bitches because you put that image on me.”

What Iron Mike is positing here is the lifetime of bad press he has received has painted a false image of him. And it’s true; the sports media savaged Mike Tyson even when they were delighted to give him a microphone and watch the chaos ensue. He was considered to be a fantastic athlete and comedic relief from the cheesy-uncle jokes that typically accompany sports commentary. And in the same way, Mike Tyson had trouble refusing any camera. “I comes across as crass, a Neanderthal, a babbling idiot sometimes,” Tyson would later say. “I like to show you that person. I like that person. He makes you want to come and listen to me.” Tyson is presenting a duality within himself, but is the duality even a play? Is he playing sincere to create a moral circle around the nasty things he says (it’s worth noting he decries how the media presents him in the same breath as lamenting having sex with “strippers and ho’s and bitches”)?

Accompanying Philosophical Work: Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images. Ceci ne pas un asshole boxer.

2. “I just have this thing inside me that wants to eat and conquer. Maybe it’s egotistical, but I have it in me. I don’t want to be a tycoon. I just want to conquer people and their souls.”

Tyson was not shy about the anger he would unleash in the ring, a big no-no in a sport that appreciates tactical work and emotionless pacing (“Every shot was thrown with bad intentions,” he once famously said). But it came from Mike’s desperate need to do what was best for Mike. One needs to create motivation wherever their path lies. Mike does not box to “conquer people and their souls”; he’s a boxer that happens to want to conquer people and their souls. He defines success existentially, from the point of view of his natural needs. Notice his use of the word “eat,” a common theme in Mike Tyson’s rhetoric, connoting an animalistic nature towards meaning and foundation.

Accompanying Philosophical Work: The Bhagavad Gita, in which the Hindu god Krishna helps a young warrior realize he must battle not because the war is just, but simply because he is a warrior. Like the young warrior, Tyson barely earns for himself but makes the King (in this case, Don King) wealthier and wealthier.

3. “When you see me smash somebody’s skull, you enjoy it.”

People go to NASCAR races to see a big crash and people go to boxing matches to see two guys beat the living hell out of each other. This isn’t exactly news, but when Mike Tyson enters the ring and gives the people what they want, they lambast him as a monster. “There are nine million people who see me in the ring and hate my guts,” Tyson once told an interviewer. “Most of them are white. That’s OK. Just spell my name right.” Heath Ledger’s interpretation of The Joker might owe quite a bit to Tyson: he was brash, unfair, and outright humorous. Who didn’t watch The Dark Knight waiting for the next Joker scene? Tyson was not the hero boxing deserved; he was the villain the sport needed.

Accompanying Philosophical Work: Justine by the Marquis de Sade, less for its content (it tells the life story of a young maiden treated as a sex slave in a monastery) than for it’s massive popularity in a fairly conservative pre-Revolution France. Sade (whose name is the root of the word “sadist”) was imprisoned and executed for his writings by Napoleon Bonaparte.

4. “I’m the best ever. I’m the most brutal and vicious, and most ruthless champion there’s ever been. There’s no one can stop me. Lennox is a conqueror? No, I’m Alexander, he’s no Alexander. I’m the best ever! There’s never been anybody as ruthless! I’m Sonny Liston, I’m Jack Dempsey. There’s no one like me. I’m from their cloth. There’s no one that can match me. My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable, and I’m just ferocious. I want your heart! I want to eat his children! Praise be to Allah!”

Perhaps his most famous pre-fight rant (said before his 2000 bout with Lou Savarese which he won by TKO 38 seconds into the first round), one must watch his delivery to get the full effect. Socrates tells us it is the wisest man who knows he knows nothing, but outside of the realm of knowledge is the tactic of confidence. If art and politics require modesty, physical accomplishment requires the knowledge you will do anything to achieve your goal. One must identify their dreams and conquer them like an emperor, destroy their opponents heart and souls and vanquish the children of defeat (which is appropriate since Lewis would go on to defeat Tyson in a knockout and he had no children at the time of this rant). Success has many fathers, but Mike Tyson will eat your failures.

Accompanying Philosophical Work: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

5. “[Sports columnist Wallace Matthews] called me a ‘rapist’ and a ‘recluse.’ I’m not a recluse.”

It’s true. Mike Tyson was convicted of rape in 1992, four years after he became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world (he served six years in prison during which he trained and converted to Islam). If this upsets you to the degree that you despise anything about him, you are practicing virtue ethics, a philosophy which states the ethics of an act are delineated by the context of that individual. This is not, however, moral relativism: however good a boxer Mike Tyson was, he was still an asshole and, yes, a rapist, and nobody knows that more than Mike Tyson. In boxing as in life, you are only what you do. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, there is no real difference between who you pretend to be and who you are.

Accompanying Philosophical Work: Either Vonnegut’s Mother Night or Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. The river does not flow; it is the flowing.

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